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The Theft of Irrigation Machines


The theft of irrigation equipment has been happening for some time. We can recall bronze sprinklers being melted down to make small statuettes, or aluminium pipes being cut away to make sets of pots and pans. However, we have been seeing something quite different over the last few years and organised criminals have nothing to do with the craft industry.

The main farmers’ union has reported a recent outbreak of thefts, fuel being siphoned out of the tanks, irrigation cables removed and the disappearance of solar panels and batteries from the hosereel machines. There have been 7% more thefts than last year. The central and south-west regions have been most affected, this being cereal farming country. At the beginning of January, nine centre pivots on the surrounding farms were completely stripped of copper by the thieves, and if this had happened during the irrigation season, it would have been a disaster.  It has been generally understood for two or three years now that agricultural equipment can not be left in the field. The police, therefore, recommend that the machinery should be brought back to the farm and parked in secure buildings; the ignition keys should never be left in the machines and they should be parked discreetly out of sight.

As we have just seen, the main types of theft involve the removal of the copper electric cables that supply the spans of the Pivots and Linear Move machines. Copper is, in fact, easy to recycle because it can be melted down at 1083° and is sells at 6.24 Euros per kilo (€4 at the scrap merchant and € 1 if it is still in the plastic duct). The weight of the copper in a 60 m cable is about 20 kg. By heating the whole cable, the plastic pipe melts and pure copper is left in a raw unidentifiable state.

Aluminium is easy to melt down: at 660°, but it is worth less per kilo (€ 1) and it is 3 times less dense. Galvanised steel is less popular because it cannot simply be dipped in the bath smelting furnaces used at the steelworks; firstly, it has to undergo a delicate and costly operation to degalvanise with acid. It is quite revealing to plot a graph and compare the trend for copper prices since 2005 with the upsurge in thefts…

For the Linear Move machines with on-board generating sets, the tendency is to fill the tanks each day in order to limit the theft of fuel.

The cost for the Farmers is very significant. The replacement cost is around € 5000 for an average appliance measuring 400 m, and to this can be added the loss of yield following delays in repair.  For the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region, the loss had been estimated at € 200,000 in 2010.  The insurers are becoming concerned and often insist on anti-theft devices being in place before they will provide cover. Faced with this scourge, the Constructors and independent companies are proposing mechanical and/or electrical methods of discouraging the thieves and organising an adequate response strategy.



In order to prevent the theft of electric cables from centre pivot and linear move irrigation machines. Irrifrance is offering two protection systems, namely: a mechanical device that prevents access to the cables as well as a GSM alarm system, both of which can also be used together.

Mechanical Antitheft system. The aim of this system is to protect the access to the multicore electric cable, mounted on each span of the pivot or linear move machine, so as to prevent the removal or cutting away of the cable, each section being 53 to 65 m. in length. As can be seen in the photos below, the system is made up of a galvanised steel band, securely attached to the tube by thick galvanised steel support clamps fastened by nuts and bolts that cannot be loosened and a housing structure that protects the cables in the area around the flanges or fastening clamps.

GSM alarm system. This device, which functions inde­pendently and is fully integrated into the electric control system, sends an SMS message in the event of any breakage in the electrical connection on the machines.



Thieves around the world are finding easy tar­gets – each un­protected pivot lets them quickly strip 2-5 miles (3-8 km) of valuable copper. The best way to protect your pivots is with the Copper Cuff.

The easy to install CopperCuff is one of the first theft de­terrent devices that is proven to protect machine wiring.

How does it work? The CopperCuff is designed to fit all major brands of pivot and lateral systems and locks the pivot’s cables in place, making it difficult for criminals to steal the copper wire. The CopperCuff encircles the entire pipe along with the cable wiring, creating a lock-tight seal.

Each cuff features a weatherproof reflective decal that deters thieves who search for copper wiring at night by flashlight. With multiple cuffs on each span, thieves cannot quickly remove the cables, so they move on to unprotected systems. CopperCuff warning signs are also available for pivot points and spans for added protection.

For ultimate protection, four CopperCuffs are recommended per span.



An antitheft device for electric span cables consisting of a protec­tive cover along the length of the pipe and equipped with a clam­ping system at the flan­ge connections, faste­ned with bolts that can­not be remo­ved so easily. The cable is completely concealed, thus redu­cing the risk of the cable being cut.



Valley is offering a range of Cable Guard Products to deter and prevent the theft of electric cables on the pivot.

A range of anti-theft devices of the “Cable Armour” type.

The Armour or Guard is installed along the whole length of the span to protect the cable; the flange is protected either side by a galvanised steel Tunnel; a simpler variation consists of installing cable clamps (see brochure) to create a solid attachment of the cable at the flanges.

The GSM Cable Guard alarm device monitors the equipment via a dialling system: the GSM Cable Guard is a control box (see brochure) with a built-in digital cellular modem, which warns the user when the electric cable is being cut; it also allows for the pivot to be controlled/ monitored by telephone.


The use of one or the other of these devices is likely to deter the cable theft that sometimes happens on farms, and thus set the user’s mind at rest, so that he doesn’t have to live in fear of the equipment being pillaged.